Picture this: in the shadow of Chicago’s famously tall downtown, a public school for 1,200 students now stands to rival the towers around it. In certain ways, William Jones College Preparatory High School is like any typical new urban school: big, glassy, flexible, and colorful. But the similarities pretty much end there. As opposed to sprawled-out high schools built on enough horizontal real estate to provide space and parking for all, Jones College Prep is stacked on its site in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. There’s even an underground garage beneath the building. “It’s an interesting example for the future, particularly as cities densify,” says the school’s lead architect, Ralph Johnson, global design director of Perkins+Will. “People are now living downtown.”

The $115 million Jones College Prep, which opened last August, is actually seven stories tall, but higher than normal ceilings give it the stature of a 10- or 11-story building. The first floor contains a spacious three-story lobby that doubles as the school’s town square. It also serves as an overflow space for the adjacent auditorium. The city’s Balbo Drive dead-ends at the lobby’s glass curtain wall, providing views out to nearby 1920s buildings, the Elevated train across the street, and Grant Park, which is only about three blocks east. “Downtown is the school’s campus,” says Erin Lavin Cabonargi, executive director of the Public Building Commission (PBC) of Chicago, the agency that built the school. “The views are incredible.”

The 278,000-square-foot school just about doubles the capacity of an existing facility located on the north end of the same block. Built in 1967 as Jones Commercial High School to train students to be secretarial and office workers, the main structure of that old campus—also designed by Perkins+Will—is a slit-windowed, six-story building. The school switched to an academic program in 1982, then a college-preparatory curriculum in 1998—and has since been named one of America’s Best High Schools for four straight years by U.S. News & World Report. However, the building, which was originally programmed like an office complex, is still in use, and there are plans to restore the Modernist concrete structure and then link it to its larger sibling.

The new Jones is taller, broader, and more complex than its predecessor. The site, previously occupied by a parking lot and the city’s historic Pacific Garden Mission (since relocated), is relatively small for a high school. And the Printer’s Row neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, abuts the site’s western edge. So there was no place to build but up. “Most schools are horizontally communicating,” Johnson says. “This one communicates vertically, which was a key strategy.”

In addition to classrooms and offices, the school, which has selective enrollment, required long spans for large spaces that would typically go on a ground floor, such as its 475-seat auditorium, a gymnasium, and a competition-size swimming pool. According to Perkins+Will senior project architect Bryan Schabel, the challenge was arranging the big parts, the heights and weights, so that the overall design made sense structurally and economically.

The lobby, administrative area, and auditorium’s main floor take up most of the school’s first story. The auditorium, on the north end, has a balcony and a fly space, which gives it greater height. “Everything else in the building has to line up,” notes Schabel. To balance the auditorium’s height, the architect stacked a cafeteria and media center on the second and third floors of the building’s south side. They configured long bands of classrooms, laboratories, and other instructional areas on the fourth and fifth floors, and placed the natatorium above them on the south end of the building, so that the pool’s great weight is efficiently transferred downward through the classroom space beneath. The gym, which is at the opposite end of the hall on the school’s north side, weighs less than the pool. “So it went over the auditorium and has a large transfer truss,” says Schabel.

Together, the architects and PBC are seeking LEED Gold certification for the building, which has a green roof and a system that collects rain and releases it slowly into the city’s stormwater system. Other sustainable measures include LED lighting and occupancy sensors.

Rather than hide the design and structural choices behind a monolithic facade, Johnson chose to express them. The exterior reads horizontally where long classroom bays are located, whereas terraces and reading gardens appear as recesses and voids, giving the facade depth. Acknowledging its historic neighbors, the south and west facades, which face Printers Row, feature terra-cotta-colored precast concrete panels to match the red-brick exteriors of nearby buildings. “We really wanted this building to be part of the fabric of the city,” says Johnson.


Chicago Public Schools

330 N. Wabash Avenue
Suite 3600
Chicago, IL 60611
T: 312 755 0770 (front desk)
F: 312 755 0775

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design Principal:
Ralph Johnson, FAIA, LEED AP

Managing Principal:
Michael Palmer, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Technical Principal:
Bruce Toman, AIA, LEED AP

Senior Project Designer:
Bryan Schabel, AIA, LEED AP

Project Managers:
Christopher Hale, AIA, LEED AP

Senior Project Architect:
Kristin Rosebrough, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Senior Technical Coordinator:
Ian Bush, LEED AP

Educational Planner:
Aimee Eckmann, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Sustainable Leader:
Eileen Pedersen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Project Team:
Gelacio Arias
Daniel Ferrario
John Kitson, RIBA, RA, LEED AP BD+C
Kyle Knudson, LEED AP
Dennis Blaul
Ute Tegtmeyer, RA, LEED AP BD+C

Architect of Record:

Associate architect(s):
The Architects Enterprise, Ltd.

Interior designer:

Structural Engineer:
Halvorson & Partners; Drucker Zajdel Structural Engineers

MEP Engineer:
Primera Engineering, Ltd.

Civil Engineer:
Terra Engineering, Ltd.

Site Design Group, Ltd

Schuler Shook

The Talaske Group, Inc.

Bill Robertson Pool Design

Food Service:
Cini-Little International, Inc.

General contractor:
Walsh Construction Company II

James Steinkamp, Steinkamp Photography (T: 312 735 5333)


278,000 square feet


$114.6 million (total); $90.9 million (construction)

Completion date:

August 2013



Structural system
Steel Frame

Exterior cladding
Sioux City Brick & Tile Co.

Metal Panels:
Metal Design Systems, Inc.

Precast concrete:
International Concrete Products

Moisture barrier:
Grace Construction Products

Curtain wall:
Crown Corr Inc. / Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

Built-up roofing: American Hydrotech, Inc.

Green Roof:
American Hydrotech, Inc.

PPG / Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

Crown Corr Inc. / Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

Metal doors:
Curries / Assa Abloy

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
(garage door) The Cookson Company, Inc.

Curries / Assa Abloy

Curries / Assa Abloy

Exit devices:
Curries / Assa Abloy

Curries / Assa Abloy

Security devices:
Curries / Assa Abloy

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Armstrong (metal ceiling in Lobby)

Suspension grid:
Chicago Metallic

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Meilahn Manufacturing Co.

Paints and stains:
Pittsburgh Paints

Plastic laminate:

Solid surfacing:
(epoxy) Trend USA Ltd.

Special surfacing:

Floor and wall tile:
Daltime (Toilets)

Resilient flooring:
Congoleum Corporation

J&J Industries

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Interior Glazed Concrete Masonry Units: Spectra Glaze
Bathroom Walls ' Elgin Butler Structural Glazed Brick

Fixed seating:
(Auditorium & Gym) Hussey Seating

Interior ambient lighting:
Mark Architectural Lighting (linear lights at Lobby)
Focal Point (Cafeteria)

Lithonia / GE

Task lighting:
Focal Point (at teaching wall)

Lithonia / Bartco

Thyssen Krupp Elevators

Toilets, Lavatories:
American Standard, Sloan

Water Cooler:

Shower Controls: